The Story Behind the Photograph...
It was a couple of months after Pope Benedict XVI had been named when Helen (7 months pregnant with Tamar), Jordan and I found ourselves in Rome for a week. “We need to go to a Papal Audience,” Helen pointed out. Neither of us are Catholic, but the social significance of not only visiting the Vatican but of seeing the Pope speak before tens of thousands of people was one we appreciated and didn’t want to miss.
It wasn’t a big leap for me to go from being intrigued with seeing a Papal Audience (which he grants outdoors at the Vatican on Wednesdays) to wondering if I could get special access to photograph him. Shortly before we left the US for Rome, I began sending emails to the Vatican fairly quickly found my way to their media relations group.
I was clear about my status as an artist, not a journalist, and The Vatican was generous and agreed to give me credentials. What they assumed I would know and neglected to tell me – and what became apparent that I didn’t know immediately upon arrival at the Vatican Media office – was that I should dress in a suit and tie for the event.
I barely own a suit and tie anymore and I most certainly did not pack anything other than basic REI comfort/hiking clothes for the trip. And so while Helen and Jordan (not quite two years old) were sweating in summer sun along with tens of thousands of Papal fans awaiting the Pope’s appearance, I sat on a plain bench outside the Papal Media Relations office while they debated behind closed doors what to do with me.
The initial decision was that I wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Pope in my sub-optimal clothing… but I pleaded my case (traveled from the US, only in town for one week) and they produced a loaner jacket and relented on one condition. I was ordered to stay as invisible as possible among the handful of press photographers. At no time, would I be allowed to step out of the press galley and they were all just hoping (praying?) that the Pope wouldn’t see me.
On many levels, watching the Pope and his rock-star adoring crowd was a mind bending experience. I did venture out from my hiding spot a few times, never near as far as the other press photographers, but I still took some liberty. That was quickly squashed as I was herded back to an area where my lack of tie and inappropriate pants and shoes were less likely to be seen.
I still ended up a mere few feet from His Holiness as he entered and left the courtyard. It was during his exit that I managed to frame and take this picture. I suppose it’s a provocative image and that’s part of it’s appeal. For me, this image is not about religion at all – it’s about the power of any one individual to be put on a pedestal and given super-human power over human lives. I’m sure that everyone who sees this image will bring his or her own interpretation to it… and that’s central to the power of art and of photography in particular.
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